Any moment now the season for pot-caught cuttlefish will begin in earnest on the south coast. Sadly, most of the local fishermen's catch will be shipped to Spain, and other places, where there is a greater appreciation for this fantastic tasting cephalopod.
Beyond the wonderful flavour of cuttlefish, both it and squid (from the same species) are very convenient too – and don't be unnerved by tackling those tentacles. Once you've finished cleaning them, they need very little cooking – just 30-40 seconds of heat on each side is required. The mistakes made here by most people are not thoroughly drying them after washing or not getting the pan hot enough for that quick flash of cooking.
The texture of cuttlefish and squid means that they are one of the few species, along with octopus, that don't deteriorate if frozen. So if you manage to get some fresh during a seaside visit, there's no harm in storing it in the freezer for a couple of months. They defrost quickly when plunged in a little water for a few minutes.
Ink pasta with cuttlefish, chilli and wild garlic
You can buy ink pasta pretty easily from good delis and some supermarkets, where it normally comes in the form of spaghetti or linguine.
Before freezing the cuttlefish you can even shred it and then pop it in a freezer bag. That way you can grab a handful and quickly defrost it for a simple pasta supper.
4 servings of ink pasta
100ml olive oil
200g cleaned weight of cuttlefish or squid with the tentacles
1-2 medium red chillies, sliced, stalk removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10-12 leaves of wild garlic, chopped or shredded
The juice of a lemon
Cook the pasta, then drain. While the pasta cooks, shred the cuttlefish as finely as you can and chop the tentacles.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, season the cuttlefish and gently cook on a low heat with the chilli for a minute, stirring as it's cooking. Add the butter and wild garlic and continue cooking on a low heat for 30f seconds. Toss with the pasta, re-season if necessary and squeeze in the lemon juice.
Ink potatoes with sprouting broccoli and squid
You can buy little packets of squid ink from good fishmongers and Italian delis. If you're a real fan it's always worth keeping a few packets in your freezer.
This dish calls for small florets from a sprouting broccoli stem. Sometimes they have just one purple head but often there are stems with lots of smaller heads, which are the ones you should ideally select.
300g large waxy new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3cm slices
2-3 packets of squid ink
½ltr fish stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
350-400g cleaned weight of preferably a large squid
3-4 stems of young sprouting broccoli with the small heads and some of the leaves removed
1-2tbsp olive oil
Put the potatoes in a pan with enough of the fish stock to cover them and add a couple of packets of the ink. Season, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-6 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the stock has more or less reduced, now just coating the potatoes. If the potatoes are cooked but you're still left with a fair bit of stock, just remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon and again reduce the stock. Once the stock is down to just a couple of tablespoons, return the potatoes. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil. Cover and keep warm.
Heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan. Cut the squid into 2-3cm rough squares and separate the individual tentacles by cutting through them. Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes, then drain. While the broccoli is boiling, season the squid, then lightly oil and cook it for a only minute and a half on a high heat, turning as you go.
To serve, toss the broccoli in the oil and season, arrange the potatoes on warmed serving plates, then place the broccoli and squid on top, spooning a little more oil over if you wish.
Stir fried squid with green onions, ginger and mushrooms
There is something particularly satisfactory about stir frying, especially when you have great ingredients to toss into the wok.
Try to buy fresh Asian mushrooms as the dried ones tend not to work quite so well.
But if you only have dried, simmer in slightly salted water for 5 minutes, drain, and then use them like you would the fresh variety.
2tbsp un-toasted sesame oil
350-400g cleaned squid
10 spring onions, trimmed and cut into lozenges on the angle
40-50g root ginger, scraped and finely shredded
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150g fresh Asian mushrooms like shiitake, king oyster, black fungus, shimeji etc
2-3tbsp chopped coriander
2-3tbsp light soy sauce
Cut the squid tube into rough 2-3cm squares and chop the tentacles in half, then dry on some kitchen paper.
Heat the sesame oil in a large wok or you could cook this in two batches. When the wok is almost smoking, add the squid, spring onion, ginger, garlic and mushrooms, season and cook on a high heat for 2-3 minutes, tossing the mixture throughout so it cooks and colours evenly. Add the coriander and soy, give it a final stir and serve immediately with extra coriander on top.
Pressed cuttlefish with parsley salad
This is a recipe that Damien Clisby, my head chef at the Tramshed, came up with. It's rather like a pressed octopus dish that you would find in Spain, where octupus is thinly sliced like a carpaccio. Cuttlefish, however, can be tricky to slice so just make sure you have a couple of slices for each serving.
500g cuttlefish (cleaned weight) and the main tube cut in half lengthways
500ml fish stock
1 tea cup of chopped parsley (about 30g)
2 leaves (6g) of leaf gelatine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
A handful of flat parsley leaves, washed and dried
1-2 large shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2tbsp capers, rinsed
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Put the cuttlefish in a saucepan with the fish stock, season, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute then remove from the heat. Drain off most of the liquid into another saucepan and cover the first pan.
Simmer the excess liquid on a medium heat until you have just a couple of tablespoons left, then stir in the parsley and return to the heat for 30 seconds to infuse. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a couple of minutes, then squeeze out the water and stir into the hot reduced stock and parsley until dissolved. If the stock has cooled down you may need to just stir it on a low heat for a few seconds again.
Get a container such as a loaf tin, and line it with clingfilm. Remove the cuttlefish from the pan, drying it on some kitchen paper. Line the bottom of the loaf tin with pieces of cuttlefish, cutting them to fit.
Spoon some of the reduced parsley liquid over the cuttlefish then repeat the layering process until you have used up all of the cuttlefish. Fold the clingfilm over the top of it, then cut a piece of cardboard to fit on top of the cuttlefish, within the loaf tin. Put some weights on the cardboard – like jars – to press the cuttlefish, then refrigerate overnight.
Mix all of the parsley salad ingredients together with just enough oil to dress the leaves and season to taste. Remove the cuttlefish from the loaf tin and remove the clingfilm.
With a sharp knife cut the fish into 1cm slices and arrange two slices on each plate with a little pile of the salad and serve.